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How frightened are you?

Posted by Andrew Cooper on January 13, 2009

 

The BBC's 'the end is nigh' logo

The BBC's 'The End is Nigh' logo

Since early this morning the lead story at the BBC News website has been this report on a survey of business confidence in the UK.  Clearly the ‘business leaders’ (the British Chamber of Commerce) who conducted the survey reported in the item are running out of adjectives to describe the awfulness of the current economic situation.  So ‘frightening’ is what they went for.  Dramatic stuff.  

Having lived through three recessions (1973-5, 1979-82 and 1989-92) I can’t remember any of them being described as ‘frightening’.   

The BBC, meanwhile, continues to pile on the agony with it’s ‘hell and damnation’ logo featuring on all TV news broadcasts and web pages related to what it is still calling a ‘downturn’.  Downturn is much too mild a word, don’t you think?  If they really want to scare the bejaysus out of us I would have thought ‘Meltdown’ at the very least or perhaps ‘The (economic) End Is Nigh’.    I wonder if they’ll replace the logo with an upwards pointing arrow if and when the downturn ever becomes an upturn.

Language is so important when discussing these things, isn’t it?  I don’t want to underplay the seriousness of our current situation – inasmuch as anyone actually understands it –  but I can’t help feeling that the use of such hyperbolic language by the media, politicians and ‘business  leaders’ is helping to ensure that a vicious cycle is deepening by the minute.

It’s at times like that this that real leadership is needed.  People who really can change the way that people think and act.  On this side of the Atlantic at least, real leaders seem to be in very short supply just now.

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Cometh the hour

Posted by Andrew Cooper on September 29, 2008

An imaginary President

An imaginary President

I’ve just been watching Obama addressing a crowd live in the US following the House of Representatives’ rejection of Bush’s Wall Street bail-out plan. 

He was doing a good job, but he could have done better. He persists in using long words like ‘philosophy’ which, to my mind, is a bad idea when you’re addressing people in the Flyover States whose votes you need. He must have said it five times.

Jed Bartlet would never make that mistake. If only Jed, Josh, Toby, CJ and the rest were actually in the White House. Bartlet was a Nobel laureate in economics, no less.  He would have known exactly what to do. And he also had the common touch. He knew that when the President addressed the nation he needed to imagine that he was sitting in a bar with Homer Simpson and his chums, explaining how to put the world to rights.

A typical American voter

A typical American voter

Obama also needs to tell some stories and to use analogies that people will understand. My infants/teacher/delicious sweets story, for example (see below) to illustrate how the current US administration left Wall Street to regulate itself.  

So, stories and simple words.  Verbs optional.  Varied sentence length.  And, usually, one idea per sentence.  Plus idioms: words they use, not words you use.  ‘Big Idea’ not ‘philosophy’: ‘Bush’s big idea was to let Wall Street run itself.  That was it. That was his big idea.’

Words are powerful, but the gaps in between and pacing are just as important.  Long gaps, sometimes.  Listen to Churchill who not only used pauses to great effect but also used some very long sentences, almost stories in themselves, broken up by dramatic pauses.  The gaps are needed to let it sink in and, vitally, to let them complete your thoughts for you.  It’s in their heads that this is lost or won, not yours.  Everything Is Psychology.

He knows all this really, but in the heat of the moment he forgets it.  So if Senator Obama would like to hire me to join his team I’m available at very reasonable rates. Certainly less than the $2,000,000 that McCain’s top advisor was paid to ‘help financial giants avoid regulations‘. Contact details are in the left side bar when you’re ready, Senator.

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Time, please

Posted by Andrew Cooper on September 4, 2008

A hostage taker

A hostage taker

I’d really like to post about two TLAs: CBT and NLP.  Regular readers will know what TLA and CBT stand for.  NLP is Neuro Linguistic Programming.  I’m not a fan of NLP (someone once tried to sell me something using some crude NLP techniques: nothing has ever made me angrier!) but many people are, and I’d like to compare and contrast the two approaches.  When I’ve completed my retail product – just one final push needed – I’ll get back to that.

Meanwhile, I see that the Whitehall Innovation Hub’s Google listing has finally overtaken mine.  Simon Dickson’s post is still one place ahead of them, and Google currently shows an extract of my comment on Simon’s post ‘not entirely sure why it’s a ‘Whitehall’ innovation ‘hub’ etc.’

Let’s hope they start innovating very soon.  The Chancellor’s attempt to drive the economy into recession even faster than it was already heading in that direction can’t have made him very popular with his next door neigbour, IMO.

Do you think, incidentally, that Darling might have been a victim of Stockholm syndrome, when he made those remarks?  Snuggled up around a peat fire with the lovely Decca Aitkenhead (see photo), perhaps sipping on a dram or two of a fine single malt (make mine a Laphroaig, if you’re buying), he’d not only been taken hostage by the enemy (as his former boss, T Blair, clearly saw journalists) but had begun to show signs of, er, loyalty to the hostage taker.

No doubt it’ll all come out in his memoirs, which he should be able to start writing fairly soon.  As Charles Clarke has pointed out, many Labour politicians are going to have a lot of spare time on their hands in the not too distant future.

If I had any confidence in any of the alternatives to New Labour I’d be happier, but – as I’ve pointed out before – it’s not the people who are at fault: the system is broken.  As the late, great, Douglas Adams almost said, the last people who should be put in positions of power are those who ask to be there.  We need a system that puts people who at least have some of the leadership qualities needed by those at the top of government.  Darling, Brown and – increasingly, I feel – Milliband ain’t got ’em.

There aren’t political points. I’m a management consultant.  I hate seeing things badly managed, whether it’s Dell’s online ordering system (of which more anon), hotels or the country.  If the UK were a major corporation shareholders would be calling, very urgently, for its board to be replaced.  As it is, the current crowd are going to stagger on for as long as they possibly can, as they system allows them to do, like a group of wounded wildebeest hunted by some very hungry lions.   And, as I say, the method we have for replacing the current board doesn’t guarantee that we’ll get a better team next time around.

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Power to the People – follow-up

Posted by Andrew Cooper on August 4, 2008

Here’s my latest missive to the relative of mine with whom I’ve been discussing the ‘Power to the People’ post via email.  I’m working on a couple of projects which are to do with involving the public directly in policy formulation, so I’m not just banging on about this for the sake of it.   More on the projects in question very soon, I hope.

‘Dear L,

I think that’s probably a straw man argument.  Now that I’m nearly 53 I think I realise – as I may not have done when I was 18 – that there’s no such thing as absolute truth.  Even in science, the knowledge we have is always provisional and is likely to be proven wrong at any moment.  Al Gore called his film “An inconvenient truth”.  I suppose that was more snappy than “An inconvenient set of hypotheses about the likely causes and consequences of climate change which most climate scientists more or less agree on but are very difficult to prove in any substantive way due to the poorly understood and extremely difficult to model systems which are involved”, although that would be a more accurate title!

I once came across a paper written by an academic called Lindblom titled “The science of muddling through”.  It’s about policy formulation and planning, particularly in relation to government policies.  Lindblom argues against the ‘classical’ model of planning – decide what you want to achieve in the future, set some goals, develop policies, allocate resources etc. because, he says, it can never work.  You can never be sure what the future will bring, you can’t (particularly when you’re dealing with complex issues like public policy on, say, crime and health) be sure exactly how your policy interventions will play out and so on.  He says that a much more incremental approach is required, certainly with a goal in mind but with something much more akin to experimentation where possible.  For example, instead of implementing a policy on a national basis if you don’t know whether it will work, do some experiments first and see what happens.   In other words, you ‘muddle through’ rather than assume that you can control everything – he saw ‘muddling’ as a good thing. (There’s a good piece from yesterday’s Guardian on this – see the “Ready, fire, aim” approach to planning that’s mentioned here.)

Linblom also argued that the one thing that you should do when things are uncertain and difficult to plan is to make the whole process as open as possible, making lots of information available to people, explaining how decisions will be made, essentially being honest with those involved and treating them like grown ups.

I don’t claim that policy analysis conducted in public – using something like wikipedia, so that lots of people could get involved – is ‘the answer’ but it’s at least interesting to think about what a system like that might be like.  As I’ve noted on my blog, all political parties are saying that more power should be handed to ordinary people and that they should be more involved in the governance of the country.  They are doing this because they know that many people are very cynical about politicians and politics and they think that getting people involved again might change this.

I don’t know whether you heard Lisa Jardine’s ‘Point of View’ talk on Friday but it touched on the dangers of adversarial debate particularly when it’s exaggerated out of all proportion by the media.  There’s a transcript of it here.  I agree with her, and I also think there’s a better way, although I’m not so naive that I think that a ‘better way’ ever be adopted.  I just think that some things – like humanity’s response to climate change – are much too important to leave to short-termist, self-centred politicians.

Andrew’

That last statement is unfair: I’ve met a fair number of politicians, at all levels, and indivdually their committment to public service often shines through.   However, the system forces them to think short term: if you’re going to stay in the job, you have to win votes.   Also, my generally positive view of MPs has been somewhat downgraded following the revelations about their expenses claims earlier in the year.  There was a nasty whiff of corruption in the air and one or two should certainly have been prosecuted, in my view.

Posted in democracy, government, Network of minds, politics | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »